Have you ever wondered how best to help a loved one or friend in a way that retains his dignity? While my brother and sister-in-law, Arnold and Carol, were here last week, we talked a good deal about the concept of “agency”.
Arnold’s definition of agency is “power and ability to do what you want to do.” He says “People with disabilities have lost some agency. People without power have lost some agency. Women have less agency in general than men because of cultural stereotypes and limitations. Prisoners have had agency removed from them by the courts.”
My brother has given a lot of thought to this topic because his wife, Carol, suffered a life-altering stroke six and a half years ago. There are things she can’t do herself any more; and activities with which she needs help.
Our mother has also lost some ability to do things she wishes to do, and therefore, some power. Mom’s mind is still quite clear; however, her legs are getting weaker. She’s fallen twice in the last two months. She has thought for awhile about possibly moving into the Assisted Living section of the senior manor where she lives.
Living independently at 97 is quite a feat, but we wondered if it was still wise for Mom. Of course we children want her to be safe. Arnold put it well when he said he sees his role with Carol, his wife, to be that of providing agency–or power, ability and environment for her to decide and to act as she wishes, rather than by simply doing things for her.
So this Christmas we, along with brothers Bob and Melvyn and their wives, talked with each other, and with Mom, asking questions like what situations would cause her to say “It’s time,” “I’m ready,” “I need to move.” She also asked whether we would be disappointed in either decision–to move or to stay. We set her mind at ease regarding that, and told her our desire is to help her achieve her goals, not to impose ours on her.
And she’s decided she’s not yet ready to leave the cottage which she loves and has decorated with precious mementos from the family home she shared with Dad. So our role is to support her, to help identify ways she can get additional help i.e. with taking care of her patio and plants, and to fill in some of the gaps for her on a more regular basis.
I appreciated Arn’s explanation of agency. When we help someone achieve their dreams, meet their own needs or make decisions that we then help facilitate, the person retains his dignity. He or she is acting rather than being acted upon, as it would be if we told that individual what to do.
There are certainly situations where safety or protection are so critical, or abilities so limited, that decisions must be made for another. But when there are still decision-making capabilities, how much better to help in that process.
Isn’t this what Jesus did for us? He took the penalty for my sins and yours, something we are incapable of doing for ourselves, and freed us, gave us the power and ability to walk with God through faith in Him.
Do you have someone in your life who lacks agency, or the capacity or power to act on his or her own behalf? If so, how can you help that individual identify or communicate their choices and then facilitate those choices to become a reality?